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Ashland City Council hostility boils over

Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsAshland City Hall.
Council adopts code of conduct after members treat employees, the public and each other poorly

A lack of trust and increasing hostility prompted Ashland city councilors to adopt a code of conduct Thursday night to regain their lost civility.

“It was not my intention to make anyone feel bad, criticized or feel uncomfortable,” said Councilor Gina DuQuenne. “I could have chosen my words more carefully.”

Some recent exchanges between councilors appear to have contributed to the recent resignation of city attorney Dave Lohman and a Gold Hill recruiting firm announcing recently it would no longer help the city find a new city manager.

Councilors acknowledged they had been less than civil in their remarks to each other, city staff and the public.

Councilor Stephen Jensen said councilors need to keep the hyperbole out of their remarks and avoid inflammatory words while still remaining free to speak to the media.

He said criticism about a policy difference is appropriate, but councilors need to avoid personal remarks.

“It has become clear that we absolutely need this declaration,” Jensen said.

The council voted unanimously to adopt a two-page code of conduct that states the council should, “Practice respect, professionalism and decorum during discussion and debate. Assume good intentions and refrain from impugning motives or professional competency of any meeting participant, including city staff, presenters and the public.”

The code of conduct requires councilors to avoid negative personal comments and “casting aspersion either directly or indirectly. One may speak in opposition but do so without personal rancor.”

Councilors should refrain from derogatory or misleading statements about each other, city staff, contractors or other stakeholders.

Failure to abide by the code of conduct could place the city of Ashland in legal and financial risk, jeopardize the productivity and efficiency of the council, and harm the working environment of staff who are tasked with ensuring the effective and safe operation of the city.

Ashland resident Nancy Boyer sent an email to councilors asking them to avoid the harsh rhetoric and deal with “the huge deficit that looms over all of us.”

Boyer said the current situation is reminiscent of 2007, when the city of Ashland spent $37,000 to hire a therapist to restore civility to the council.

Ashland resident Dean Silver sent the council an email stating, “Regarding the code of conduct, I urge you to censure Councilor Stephen Jensen in response to egregious and inappropriate comments in the local press attempting to discourage citizens from attempting to contribute to the public discourse.”

Councilor Tonya Graham said, “It is my hope that some of the ways in which people in this body have engaged will change.”

She said councilors need to be pulling in the same direction even if they disagree.

Councilor Stefani Seffinger said the council has a lot of work to regain trust that has been lost.

“Even this meeting feels like there is not trust,” she said.

She said the council needs to be a functional group to effectively represent the people of Ashland.

“I’d like this personally to be a time of healing,” she said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.